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The story of the greatest rivalry at Le Mans

Ferrari P3
Modified 14 Aug 2018, 18:21 IST

Rivalries are what makes sport interesting and appealing; without rivalries, any sport would die.

In motorsports, competitions used to be way more interesting and difficult in the 60s as compared to today, and one that stood out was that between Ford and Ferrari.

The rivalry lasted for a mere two years but it remains one of the best at the 24 hours of Le Mans - not just because of the competition as to who had the better car, but also because of the element of vendetta.

During the early 60s, American automobile brand Ford realized that if they wanted to increase their sales they needed to step into motorsports to attract the young generation. So Ford decided to enter the 24 hours race at Le Mans. But the problem for Ford was that they had no idea how to win at Le Mans.

Back then, Ferrari ruled over motorsports - especially Le Mans. However, since they were not stable financially, Ferrari and Ford agreed on a 16 million deal.

On 21st May 1963, Ford Executives reached Maranello to sign the deal, but Mr. Enzo Ferrari decided to back out of it because in the clause it was written in Italian that Enzo Ferrari wouldn't be able to control the motorsport wing of Ferrari and that all the controls would be handed to Ford.

This didn't go down well with Henry Ford II and he pledged to crush Ferrari. He called his top executives and said, "Build me a car that will crush Ferrari at Le Mans."

But to beat a brand on its home soil Ford needed some outside help. So they tied up with three English motor racing teams and set up a factory in Slough.

Ford faced a lot of challenges. They had to build a car which could race at over 200 miles/hour, it had to be reliable for 24 hours, and to make matters worse they had just 10 months to achieve all of this.

the clause which angered Enzo Ferrari.
the clause which angered Enzo Ferrari.

After 10 months of hard work, Ford tested at Le Mans with the GT40 and found that it was fast but very unstable. Before they could find out the issue though, the car crashed. And to make the situation even more difficult, the second spare also crashed.

Fingers crossed, Ford reached 24 hours of Le Mans 1964 with 3 Ford GT40. However, they all either broke down or caught fire, leaving the "prancing horses" to take the victory.

Ford decided to put Ken Miles on the job of developing the Ford GT40. Miles went around for a test drive and said, "It's bloody awful."

He went on to improve the brakes, the engine, the handling and brought down the terrible instability at high speed. But the lack of time compelled Ford to race with the hastily developed car, leaving the American giant humiliated once again at Le Mans.

Ford decided that they would keep the fight on and returned again in 1966 with eight cars, tons of spares and a squad of world-class drivers including Ken Miles and Bruce McLaren.

In qualifying, Ford took the top four qualifying positions. However, in the race Ferrari were leading at first which gave Ford a sense of deja-vu.

But Miles was determined to win it this time and he hammered his way into the lead. By morning the Ferraris were either broken or crashed, leaving an elated Henry Ford II as he saw his cars finish a spectacular one, two and three.

Ford GT40 MkII cruising to victory
Ford GT40 MkII cruising to victory

It took Ford more than two years and more than £360 million to make a race machine that beat Ferrari and ended their reign at Le Mans. That rivalry of two years just to settle a vendetta will go down in the history of motorsports as a feud to remember.

Ken Miles
Published 14 Aug 2018, 16:50 IST
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